Strike Threats Hamper Labor Law Debate

Threats by at least one garment union to strike over the arrest of Beehive Radio’s Mam Sonando have strained negotiations with employers over an amendment to the labor law, a union official said Wednesday.

Garment industry officials have said that a reduction in wages offered to night-shift workers is becoming critical, as Cambodia’s industry vies for investors eyeing neighboring countries.

“Following the events of last week, there’s been a chilling of relations with employers,” said George Mcleod, international liaison for the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Mcleod said the strained relations came after the FTU threatened to strike with a union coalition for the release of Mam Sonan­do, who was imprisoned on charg­es related to the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots but later released on bail.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia would not comment on whether relations were strained with FTU Pres­ident Chea Vichea, but did criticize his leadership.

“Chea Vichea’s actions will hurt not only the garment factories but the economy as a whole,” GMAC labor consultant Chan Dara said Wednesday.

Few factories can afford to run a night shift, since Cambodian law mandates night workers receive twice the day wage, GMAC Presi­dent Van Sou Ieng said last week.

FTU is willing to accept 130 percent of the day wage instead of the standing 200 percent, as long as the work week is reduced by two hours, Mcleod said.

But GMAC said a change in the night wage should not be related to a reduction in work hours.

“We will not link a reduction of working hours to a decrease in the night wage,” Chan Dara said.

Wage reform must pass, Van Sou Ieng said, or the industry may risk losing valuable contracts to companies in China or Vietnam.

“If the night shift is viable, we can take orders, increase exports and create 100,000 jobs…. I regret we cannot do that now. If we de­lay, I do not think factories will stay,” he said.

Industry officials are particularly concerned about productivity be­cause Cambodia loses its US garment quota in 2005. Offi­cials hope to have joined the World Trade Organization by then.

In a meeting last week with various ministries, factories and unions, the Labor Advisory Com­mittee proposed to create a working group to consider amending the night wage, Chan Dara said.


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